Special Achievement Award in Medical Science
What a thrill it was to receive a phone call one morning in June from Joe Goldstein and how deeply grateful and honored I am to receive this award.
Two important themes have influenced my 50 years in science. The first is independence. For me the fun of doing science has been to be my own boss, and any pleasure that I have had as an administrator of science has been running interference for colleagues following their own visions. I have been fortunate to work at the Carnegie Institution for Science for my entire career where independence is encouraged and supported.
My second theme is the importance of young scientists in research. The simple lesson that research is best done by young people guided me as Director of our Department to set up independent positions for new PhDs. It has been rewarding to watch them develop their careers. My interest in young scientists is partly responsible for founding the Life Sciences Research Foundation, an international postdoctoral fellowship agency whose goal has been to support the very best young scientists at their most productive time. The history of LSRF goes back to 1980 when molecular biology inspired by the new recombinant DNA technology was poised to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry. These discoveries were made at nonprofit institutions paid for by the government mainly through the extramural grant programs of NIH. The companies that would commercialize these new methods did not discover them. Is there a better example of the role of government generating an entirely new industry? I expected that companies would have a new interest in the biological research carried out in universities and research institutions. After some thought and consultation we started a simple postdoctoral fellowship agency that I hoped would be sponsored by the very pharmaceutical companies poised to benefit from these discoveries. Over the last 30 years LSRF has supported 456 fellows. We have never had endowment so we solicit sponsors every year. These sponsors include research-oriented companies, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a variety of foundations, one government agency, and several philanthropic scientists. One of the rewards for running the Life Sciences Research Foundation has been calling the winners to deliver the news. Their ecstatic reaction to my phone call says a lot about our line of work. Consider what they are so thrilled to receive: The princely salary is $42,000 for a beginning fellow with a PhD, who is usually over 30 years old and probably has a family. These fellows have competed successfully for the privilege of working night and day. The enthusiastic response of these budding superstars makes me proud to be part of the scientific profession.